MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
Gun rights will be argued in a key case before the Supreme Court next Tuesday. At issue is whether Washington D.C.'s 32 year-old ban on handguns is constitutional. The ruling could affect the gun laws around the country. It's the first time in almost 70 years that the high court has heard a major Second Amendment case as being closely watched by people on both sides of the gun rights issue.
Over 60 groups have filed friend-of-the-court briefs, and today, we are going to hear two opposing views. First, to a prosecutor, Michael Troncoso, who says D.C.'s gun ban should be upheld. He's an assistant district attorney for San Francisco and he helped write a brief signed by many district attorneys from around the country. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Troncoso.
Mr. MICHAEL TRONCOSO (Assistant District Attorney, San Francisco): Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Melissa.
BLOCK: And what's the argument? Why do you think the Supreme Court should overturn a lower court ruling and let D.C.'s gun ban stand?
Mr. TRONCOSO: Well, Melissa, this has been a pretty quiet area of the law for prosecutors for the last 70 years as you noted. And to the extent that people have had an individual right under the Second Amendment to bear arms, it's always been subject to the kinds of reasonable restrictions that state and local governments would place on that that are designed to promote public safety. So, for instance, you can't have a gun, you know, in plain view in your car. You can't stuff one underneath your passenger seat. You can't carry a loaded or concealed gun in public near a school or on a bus or on a plane. And I think, to the extent that these are reasonable rules that have been upheld repeatedly against Second Amendment challenges, we're worried that that's going to change after this Supreme Court decision.
BLOCK: How would you argue that it's reasonable for the District of Columbia to say to all of its citizens, you cannot own a handgun?
Mr. TRONCOSO: Well, I can tell you that the petitioners in this case, the District of Columbia, the way they took on that argument was that, first of all, individuals have a right to self-defense, to the extent that they are able to have other guns. The person in this case in the Heller case, Mr. Heller, he had a shotgun and he had another type of gun in his home, and his argument was that he needed a handgun in addition to those other two guns.
So the District of Columbia argued to him, you know, you already have a couple of guns and you've got the ability to protect yourself, what we're saying as a district is that handguns are exceptionally dangerous in our experience. And that judgment isn't a judgment that's shared across the country, but it's a judgment that was made democratically in the District of Columbia. We have, you know, similar policies in California. We say you can't have other types of exceptionally dangerous guns that we believe are dangerous. You can't have a machine gun, for instance.
So, you know, we think that state, local and federal governments should have the ability to make those judgments and run afoul the Second Amendment as long as they're reasonable.
BLOCK: There is a lot of debate about what the framers intended in writing the Second Amendment, of course. Would you agree that it does guarantee an individual right to own guns?
Mr. TRONCOSO: You know, our brief really didn't address that issue head-on because we felt like it was addressed on a lot of the other briefs. The parties briefed that issue extensively, and so did a lot of the other friend-of-the-court briefs. Our concern was more — what is the scope of the right under the Second Amendment. It says right to bear and keep arms, but what is that going to mean practically for, you know, prosecutors and for police that are out in the field? If someone is, you know, standing in front of their apartment and has a handgun in their waistband. Do they have a constitutional right to engage in that kind of behavior? And we think that the extent of the court can be very clear that laws banning that are reasonable, we'd really appreciate that. I think it would preserve our ability to enforce the laws that protect public safety.
BLOCK: What do you think the magnitude of this ruling will be?
Mr. TRONCOSO: It could be a blockbuster, you know. Of course, they've never really found that there's an individual right under the Second Amendment, and that's why this most recent ruling, striking down the D.C. law, was such a blockbuster in and of itself. And to the extent that other people have tried to bring a Second Amendment challenge - a criminal that had a gun and had used it in a crime or had a gun near him while he was dealing drugs or so forth, the extent they've said I have a Second Amendment right to have a gun, courts have always turned those challenges back. All of those were swept away by this most recent decision, striking down the D.C. gun ban. It could be a severe impact. We're hoping that it won't be, though.
BLOCK: Well, Michael Troncoso, good to talk to you. Thanks very much.
Mr. TRONCOSO: Thanks so much, Melissa.
BLOCK: That's Michael Troncoso, assistant district attorney for San Francisco.